Frankly speaking, I’d have been impressed if Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son resembled a best-forgotten, straight-to-DVD sequel. This is not, I’m sure you’d agree, the most obvious of options for a VR follow-up. And yet, somehow, it fits like a glove.
This is a remarkably natural concoction of immersive storytelling and interactivity. It probably wouldn’t be in the hands of anyone other than Tequila Works, a studio with suspiciously specific experience in the field of time-bending narratives. It’s as if the team itself had been making the same game over and over until it arrived at this, a perfect outlet for its fixation on time-distorted stories.
And it really runs with the opportunity, intricately navigating a multi-stranded narrative in which Phil Connors Jr., a familiar brand of mean-spirited vlogger, reckons with the legacy of his enlightened father. Connors Jr. is sharp-tongued and responsibility-adverse, which comes to a head when he returns to his home town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Forced to relive the same day over and over, he wrestles with being raised by a know-it-all of a Dad and the disdain it fostered inside of him.
It’s one of the weighty themes that shows Tequila Works, which could have simply adopted the film’s gimmick alone, is keen to carry the burden of a true sequel. It’s as much a modernization as it is a follow-up, reimagining the rules of Groundhog Day in a world with smartphones and vegans.
Between scenes you’ll see tweets from Connors Jr. that flesh out the day in refreshingly abridged form and, if you access your tablet, you can scroll through old photos to get a sense of his self-involved past. Combined with a faithfully-recreated rendition of Punxsutawney and an art style that allows for expressive, if occasionally clownish, character performances, there’s more than enough reason to give this brave attempt its fair chance.
If there’s a foot wrong it’s in the expletive-ridden script. The game is often funny but occasionally mistakes the 26-year gap between installments as an excuse to swap Bill Murray’s signature deadpan style for foul-mouthed rants.
This just doesn’t feel at home in a world and story that otherwise does the original justice. There’s genuine affection for the source material here, from Connors Jr.’s biting sarcasm infecting every well-meaning cast member to the sandbox freedom of a world with few repercussions. And, yes, that does include some hilarious attempts at virtually ending it all.
More importantly, though, the plot does an eloquent job of justifying nearly every development and interaction you’ll uncover in Like Father Like Son.